What can a resident do for me?

by Kyle Flattery, M.D.
Posted 6/23/22

You wonder, “Isn’t a resident a student?”  And then, “If there’s a resident working, then what is an intern?”

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What can a resident do for me?

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As you wait for your appointment, you are approached by a young-looking woman in a white coat. “Hi!” she says warmly. “I’m the intern working today, and I’m currently helping out my senior resident with another patient. Is it alright if our medical student gets a head start with you, and I’ll come in after?” 

You wonder, “Isn’t a resident a student?”  And then, “If there’s a resident working, then what is an intern?” You’re not sure what the hierarchy is, but you generously decide to match her enthusiasm, and give the medical student a chance to learn.

After reporting your history to the medical student, and having it confirmed by the intern, you are then joined by a man who appears to be in his early 30s wearing brightly colored scrubs. “Hello! Thank you for speaking with our student and intern. I’m the nurse practitioner working today, and I’m filling in for our physician assistant who is away at a conference. What can I do for you today?”

These days, you might hear the term doctor being replaced with the word, “provider,” as there are more and more people who are assuming the responsibilities traditionally fulfilled by a physician. Physician assistants, nurse practitioners, resident physicians and many more work together to give people the care they need. 

One of these, a resident, is actually a doctor. These individuals graduated from medical school and earned a M.D. or a D.O. degree. Rest assured that if you are seeing a resident, this is someone who has completed a rigorous medical education.

Following medical school, there is a process in the U.S. called “residency.” 

Your first year of residency is called your “intern” year. After you finish this year, you begin to work toward being “board certified” in the special area you are going into. In my case, I have completed my intern year and will be finishing my residency to be board certified in family medicine.

During residency, newly minted physicians provide direct patient care, and make their medical decisions with the oversight of an “attending” physician.

Residency is a job like many others. There are frequent morning meetings, and there are many shifts spent working in the clinic every week. There are month-long rotations, where residents spend most days of the week learning to care for the severely ill, both on the medical floors of Chestnut Hill Hospital, as well as its Intensive Care Unit.

Family physicians are also expected to understand how to safely deliver a baby and receive training in labor and delivery. Over the course of three years, we rotate with different specialists in their clinics in areas such as cardiology, neurology, orthopedics, and the like. 

One day, after all this education, the onus will fall on these residency graduates to provide this teaching role to the group arriving just behind them, to continue in a legacy of academic training. 

Being a family medicine resident in 2022 is a difficult job. But the reward of gaining the trust of strangers and helping them through some of their darkest of times is something I could never have anticipated the scope of when I started applying to medical schools seven years ago.